This Shabbat was a particularly entertaining one for me. Liat had some friends over from the old country who are here on a six-week summer camp program (Sdei Chemed). Their parents are friends of ours. In addition, we had some other family friend's sons here who are on Mach Hach Ba'aretz . Seven teenagers filled my apartment. Good kids, all of them. It was fun for me to watch the two groups, initially awkward with each other, slowly relax and start to get along. They spent Shabbat playing games and talking in my living room.
Growing up in Williamsburg and going to a Bais Yaakov-type school I didn't have much opportunity to interact with the opposite sex. It was of course, frowned upon--to put it mildly--both in my neighborhood and in my school. It was not until my year in Israel, and after that, my involvement in Bnei Akiva that I started to have friends who were male. And that was fun. But "dating" was difficult for me. Many of my friends at that time coupled off and eventually got engaged and married. That did not happen to me and I had to start "dating", which I wasn't very good at. I didn't know how to be myself on a date and could never relax. I never really did learn the skill. When I met Isaac, he was relaxed enough for both of us and that took care of that. (I think I would be so much better at dating now, at my advanced age; but Isaac isn't into that sort of thing.)
Anyhow, it seems today, at least in America, that kids even in the relatively "modern orthodox" schools are discouraged from interacting with the opposite sex. They are expected to do a year or two of Israel after high school, come back, start "shidduch" dating, and get married.
To each his own.
I don't believe there is anything wrong with teenagers hanging out together. I like having a bunch of kids sitting in my living room, watching a movie (as they are doing right as I write.). I think it is actually healthy for them to learn how to interact with each other. Here in Israel, Bnei Akiva is a huge, religious youth movement, where teen-agers meet each other in a wholesome environment. I'm a little sorry that we came to late for Liat to feel comfortable joining this group.
I'm not naive about teenagers and their hormones. I know that there will always be kids who fool around and experiment. But I don't think others should be naive and think just because they keep the kids separate that this won't happen. As I said, I went to a Bais Yaakov High School. I knew nothing until one Shabbat a friend invited a bunch of us over and we were regaled with another classmate's "experiences". It was a very educational weekend for me. I never quite looked at a cucumber the same way.
I talk to my kids openly about the things they may encounter. They have my trust and I always tell them, I trust you until you give me a reason not to. I pray every day that they make the right choices because you could be the best parent in the world and still have a kid who does something really stupid. But I don't feel that separating them is what will protect them from themselves.
In the meantime, the kids are watching that movie. I sit here typing, but I keep stealing glances at them. They are beautiful in their intensity, in their joy at being together. I wonder at them, at their pimply faces, their braces, their self-consciousness.